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Shutter Island

A 2010 thriller directed by Martin Scorsese.

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Shutter Island Movie Delivers Confusion, Suspense, and an Extremely Poignant Ending

  • Mar 1, 2010
Rating:
+3

I am not a fan of Martin Scorsese, and I went into the movie not knowing that he was the director. I also saw this film without having first read the book. Despite these circumstances, I did enjoy the movie which offered endless turns, twists, and confusing scenes into the past of the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The opening sequence was brief and basic. There was the title Shutter Island in bold gray letters, and then the film started, which began on a ship with the location and year. The lack of opening credits played into the suspense of the film, almost like an Alfred Hitchcock production. This felt like real life not a movie! It also magnified the creepiness of Shutter Island, the place where insane patients are kept until (if) they are rehabilitated back into everyday society.

Artistically, this movie was very well-constructed with its psychological points of in-depth revelations coupled with spiraling out of control flashbacks, which initially are very confusing. At points, it felt like a dream where reality is constructed by an unreliable god. What is truth? What is fiction? Who can we trust and believe? Many points in the film I felt like I was stuck in a horrible nightmare that left my stomach heaving. I was unsettled. I was uncomfortable. My construct of reality was offset and out of place. I was directly engulfed in the state of mind that Scorsese wanted his audience to be in. I was not supposed to try and understand everything that was going on. I was supposed to enjoy the horrific thrill ride despite the pandemonium and fear. 

The directing shots were well played. We had close-ups of the characters faces, especially after waking up from sleeping. The panoramic views of the entire island, the various buildings, and the lighthouse contrasted nicely with the close-up personal shots. They both showed the isolation of the location as well as the intense emotions experienced by the actors. There was also a balance of light and dark scenes, adding a realistic and thrilling element to the film. The storm was fantastically played and even the wardrobe was extremely important to the overall character development. Some parts of the dialog felt overdone. Many of these moments could have been cut down to more precise scenes that wouldn't have left the audience wondering what the hell was the reason for all that nonsense? Despite some of these downfalls, the director excelled with his haunting creations.

Even though there were numerous scenes that were dark, morbid, and haunting, such as the scene in the mausoleum during the intense wind and rain storm, I was not frightened, at least not in the sense of a traditional horror. If you want a jump out of your seats type of movie, this is not the one for you. In fact, I think there were only two scenes that caught me by surprise, and even then they were rather benign and did not relate to the overall plot or theme of the film. In addition, there were numerous scenes that I solved the mystery of, even a significant part of the ending, which was a bit disappointing. There were tons of clues hinted throughout the performances of the supporting characters if one paid enough attention to catch these details. 

All the actors had superb roles. Leonardo DiCaprio starred as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall sent to investigate a missing patient on the island. This movie reminded me of his wonderful acting skills. DiCaprio is passionate in this film, and I really believed the character he portrayed. He was someone that I could empathize with even at the very end. Who doesn't love a man searching for the truth and wanting to do the right thing in the face of such a horrible situation? He brings up questions of morality, sanity, and whether humanity can ever conquer the sleeping dragon within that can transform even the most innocent person into a crazed monster. His co-stars invoked similar sentiments. Mark Ruffalo played Chuck Aule, Daniels' new U.S. Marshall partner. It was refreshing to see him act in an extremely different role from some of his traditional romantic comedy films. This showed that he could take his career to the next level and play a serious part. I especially liked the nickname he refers to Daniels as, his "boss." The two psychiatrists in the film, played by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow were important counterparts to the protagonists of the film. These antagonists were cool, confident, and collected, very different from what I expected. Their backgrounds and investments in Shutter Island are just as mysterious as DiCaprio's own. Finally, there was Michelle Williams, who played Dolores, Teddy's wife. She adds the necessary ghost factor to the film and is constantly warning Daniels about some of the people he is meeting on the island. At first, her role is easily overlooked as a confusing and unnecessary element. She does offer memorable moments such as the ashes and bloody dress scenes. As the film progresses, though, her significant contributions are slowly revealed.

The entire cast added an overall tone of ominous and creepy foreboding. They all need to be stars from the people DiCaprio interviews to the groundskeepers raking leaves. Shutter Island is also about them--the patients. Since so much of the story focuses on them, we need to believe their roles. In the end, we are left questioning our sense of insanity versus sanity. 


The time period plays a significant role in the film. First off, many of the medical procedures being done would not have been as common in a modern day setting. Second, the 1950's decade allowed for a film noir feel. Finally, the movie had many flashback scenes to World War II, which were traumatizing in all their depictions of that horrible and atrocious war. Words cannot describe how moved I was by these scenes and how angry I was at the reminder of what people were capable of. This only furthered the belief that there is a thin line between human and monster. These flashbacks had a Schindler's List feel to it, especially in the choice of music.

The most haunting instrumental that was played was Max Richter's "On the Nature of Daylight," which played at least three times throughout the film as well as in the end credits. In those credits, the music stood out even more because it was overlaid with a vocal performance by Dinah Washington and the song "This Bitter Earth." There was a lot of classical music that really represented the period and feel of the movie, such as "Fog Tropes" and "Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia Allegro Moderato." Without this fantastic score, a lot of the suspense and intense emotions would have been lost. 

One aspect I was not expecting was all the violence and bloodshed. If you are easily squeamish, you might need to close your eyes during numerous portions of the film, especially when seeing the World War II parts.

In the end, I rated the film slightly lower because I didn't agree with the final message of the movie even though it was an extremely poignant and appropriate ending. This also wasn't the most original psychological thriller out there, although it was depicted with a finesse and clarity that stood out as being high caliber. Parts felt overly dramatized and even certain scenes felt unnecessary. For example, there was one scene with a little girl at the end where you could visibly see her shaking when she wasn't supposed to be moving. Why not cut it? It was almost laughable even though it proceeded a very important revelation. Despite some of the down-sides to the film, I found myself bawling during the end credits. I was that emotionally invested, touched, and confused by all that I had seen. This is probably the type of movie that will get better with repeat watches. I'm sure there were many important details I missed during the first viewing that will be revealed with later watches once it comes out on DVD.

Shutter Island Movie Delivers Confusion, Suspense, and an Extremely Poignant Ending

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December 10, 2010
Great review, I feel about the same as you. Excellent review.
December 20, 2010
Thanks for stopping by and reading my review, Alex. :)
 
July 03, 2010
As far as movie adaptations go, Shutter Island is surprisingly accurate.  Although the ending is no real surprise at all (it was strangely a shock in the book, however, despite some really obvious hints, but that's because Dennis Lehane is a ridiculously good writer).  I'm a fairly big fan of Scorcese, though and have usually admired his style of directing.  Shutter Island is far from the best work he's done.  It's a good movie, I think.  For what it is.  There's something really nice about the way it's done.  There are, of course, things Scorcese had to cut. There are also moments in which he sped things up to get through, but that's to be expected from an adaptation.  Dennis Lehane is a great writer.  If you get a chance I would urge you to read the book.
July 05, 2010
What's your favorite Scorcese film? I've heard good things about Lehane's writing. I will need to check this book out sometime soon!
July 05, 2010
I'm a big fan of Goodfellas and Raging Bull.  There's something I like about the Taxi Driver too.  Although it's not among my favorite. I was, however, quite impressed with it.  For Dennis Lehane... I haven't read too much of his stuff.  But Mystic River was, I think, his best one.
July 09, 2010
I haven't seen either of the films you listed, but I've heard of all three of them. And yes...I thought Lehane's name sounded familiar other than for his work on "Shutter Island." I remember that once upon a time I discovered her was the author of "Mystic River." Thanks for reminding me!
 
June 23, 2010
fantastic review!! you captured so much of what I thought about this film. thx!
June 24, 2010
Thanks so much for reading my review, Melissa! I'm glad it resonated with your own sentiments about the film. :)
 
June 17, 2010
To clarify some of the confusion...if I have interpreted the film correctly... The more confusing scenes were the ones where there was a blend of fire and water elements. I would suggest that those were the points where reality and fantasy were blurred. From a viewers perspective, I perceive that the water elements indicated reality. The boat ride at the beginning (when he is already experiencing the effects of coming off his medication...his awakening) to the water surrounding the lighthouse. He has to swim to the lighthouse to get in. The fire elements were fantasy, or part of his constructed reality. He continually lights matches in his conversation with his "informant." The fire he stoops next to in the cave, the burning apartment, etc. Viewing the movie from that perspective helped inform my understanding of the actions. Combined with the poignant ending, I found the film to be far more intelligent than other films in this genre that simply steal other people's ideas.
June 17, 2010
Very interesting. I did wonder about the boat ride at the beginning and where the fantasy began. They must have taken the boat somewhere with him on it before they began the entire experiment; I imagine they wouldn't have started him out in a regular city considering his instability. Thanks for this interpretation! It really clarified my understanding of the film.
June 17, 2010
On a slightly different note, I don't see this film as being original, per say, because it was "stolen" from a book. These days I am most impressed with the film screen writers who actually write a screenplay not influenced by a book or a remake of another film. These are hard to come by.
June 23, 2010
ok, wow coldsteel - that's really fascinating. I hadn't realized any of that, but it all makes sense now. thx for sharing!
 
March 12, 2010
Fablous review. A colleague at work was telling me about this film just this afternoon. She described it in much the same way that you did. You have both whetted my appetite. Thanks!
March 12, 2010
Great! I'm glad we both got you curious about the film. Let me know what you think of it when you see it!
 
March 11, 2010
HMM, after all that it only gets 3 stars? Anything that leaves me crying usually is worth more than that, That's the trouble with 3 though, it encompasses such a large range of films--from the barely average to the just-missed-out-on-being-terrific.
March 12, 2010
 For me, my personal biases about the themes can/do get in the way of my ratings. I would have rated the film a 4, but I disagreed with some of the themes. Of course, I don't know how it could have worked out to go in a direction that I would have enjoyed, although I did consider for a while alternative edits.

The same thing happened with my Girl with a Dragon Tattoo book. I would have rated it a 4 if my own biases hadn't gotten in the way. I try to be aware that they are there when I am writing the reviews and mention it somewhere if it affected the rating.

Any plans to see the film? I would love to read your take on it!
March 12, 2010
In what respect did your biases about the themes get in the way of your rating? If you don't want to spoil the film for anyone else by revealing too much here you can always message me. I'll probably see this when it pops up for free somewhere, but I'm not a fan of either Scorsese or DiCaprio so it's pretty low on my list of priorities, although I am curious about it. It's always a warning sign for me when someone says that while they're watching a movie they've already started spinning their own scenarios. A friend of mine and I used to do that at particularily predictable horror movies (at the drive-in) and sometimes we would become so engrossed in all the different versions of the movies that we had spun ourselves that when the film's big "surprise" was finally revealed we would look at each other in total confusion because we had lost track of whatever cliche was actually being thrown at us. =)
March 12, 2010
 Are you sure you want me to spoil the film by explaining my complicated thoughts? I'll send you a private e-mail once you confirm this. Lots of spoilers will be mentioned, LOL!

It wasn't that I was spinning new scenarios while I was watching the film. Initially, I was angry at the film for getting me so emotionally attached, and I was determined to not like it. After talking it over with my partner, I decided I liked it. I also figured out what bothered me about it. That's when I was trying to figure out how to make the movie go in a direction I would have preferred. 

LOL! That sounds like so much fun! Do you and your friend still do that?
March 12, 2010
She's in Florida and I'm in Illinois. We lost touch a long time ago. It was a lot of fun though--it made a lot of very bad movies endurable. Yeah. I'd love to hear all about your thoughts on the movie. it's even more intriguing now that you've said you were angry at it because it worked so well getting you emotionally involved. Do you want to message me here or at my e-mail address?
March 12, 2010
Whichever is your preference. :D

Yeah, I have a lot of friends who I lost touch with too...I hate that! I am so bad at keeping up with people unless they are online! LOL
March 15, 2010
Here's fine with me.
 
March 07, 2010
A very thorough and helpful review--thanks!
March 07, 2010
Thanks for reading my review and offering me some praise, Sheri. Have you seen the movie yet?
March 07, 2010
No...I was waiting to hear some "real people" reviews before I went because, while I like suspense and mystery, I do not like horror...and I wasn't sure where it was on that spectrum. But now I think I'll take the leap! P.S. Saw Jeff Bridges' Crazy Heart yesterday. It's crazy good!
March 08, 2010
I enjoy suspense, mystery, and horror. I wouldn't categorize this as horror. There are maybe two spots where you might get a little frightened, and it's more situational nervousness rather than horror.

I heard from my mother that Jeff Bridges won the best actor Oscar. I've heard good things about the movie. I will have to check that out soon!
 
March 03, 2010
Wonderful review. I like how you described the detail of the locations and how it adds to the isolation element of the film. Your character descriptions were very well done also. I don't watch thriller films usually, but I may have to check this one out.
March 04, 2010
I definitely think you will like this movie, Pard. It keeps you guessing as to what the mystery of the island really is.
 
March 01, 2010
Impressive review. You pretty much covered everything about the movie and I was rather impressed to read the part of the soundtrack. A lot of reviewers usually forget to mention that, (I do often) but music is an essential part of conveying emotion. Nicely done, Adrianna. Your review almost reads like a great essay! (people know I don't give out compliments easily LOL) Cheers!
March 01, 2010
Thanks so much for the compliments, William. I know they are hard to earn, and I feel honored to receive them every once in a while. This movie took a while to process and write the review for because of how upset I was over the ending, lol. I get into the mindsets of the characters too easily and really "feel" everything. Ah, I love writing essays! :D
 
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review by . February 20, 2010
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   The last time I remember watching a Martin Scorsese directed pure suspense thriller was some years ago with the remake of “Cape Fear”. This time around, the acclaimed director together with screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis adapts the novel “Shutter Island” for the big screen. I haven’t read the book but I can safely say (according to my research) that fans of the book will be glad to know that the book’s basic outline is intact with only one scene added …
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Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Rofolo are Federal Marshalls that arrive by ferry at Shutter Island.  This is a correctional facility for the criminally insane.  They were sent to investigate the escape of one of the "patients" in the facility.  On the way there DiCapprio seems to be seasick and at times he seems to be seeing weird things.  He keeps having visions and dreams of his dead wife and things that happened around a Nazi concentration camp.   …
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review by . December 10, 2010
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The setting: 1954. A deliciously forboding rocky island 11 miles from Boston, home to a mental institution for the worst of America's criminally insane. The plot: Two federal marshals arrive as a storm is brewing, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. It soon becomes clear to the cops that it's not just the patients who are spinning tales around here. The ambience: Gloomy, gothic, and menacing. Cast and characters: Leonardo DeCaprio as senior investigator Teddy Daniels, …
review by . January 11, 2011
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Pros: DiCaprio and Scorsese, a great duo      Cons: none for me      The Bottom Line:    "Lord, this bitter earth   Yes, can be so cold   Today you're young   Too soon, you're ol"   ~Dinah Washington      The Movie:   Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are U. S. Marshalls, traveling to Shutter Island, off the Boston coast, to find an escapee.  Shutter Island houses …
review by . February 24, 2010
Step trhough the gates of Ashcliffe and into a place of pure madness and chaos....
Have you ever had a dream that was impossible to wake up from, you felt like you were falling and falling   but you never seemed to hit the ocean below. Sometimes in our lives, we hit such a point in our lives that everything seems unreal to us that were just living a big dream   day in and day out. Martin Scorsese's psychological horror thriller "Shutter Island" explores those ideas and how sometimes even when everything in our life may seem out of place, may seem …
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review by . July 12, 2010
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   Shutter Island is one of the most well crafted psychological thrillers to come by since Silence Of The Lambs. And it is no coincidence both were brilliantly written novels. Shutter Island is adapted by a book written by Dennis Lehane (wrote gone baby, gone and mystic river). It is a book filled with twists and turns, that will leave the reader dizzy. And, that is what it's film counterpart does to the fullest. Martin Scorsese helms the director chair, in a movie where he is more …
review by . February 21, 2010
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Adrianna Simone ()
Ranked #33
MY GROUPS (AND COMMUNITY):      The following information was taken from the officialCafe Libri Website.   Cafe Libri (Yahoo Reading Discussion Group)is the original Cafe … more
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Shutter Island is a 2010 thriller-period drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Production started in March 2008. Shutter Island was originally slated to be released on October 2, 2009, but Paramount pushed the release date to February 19, 2010.  Paramount head executive Brad Grey blamed the recent economic downturn as the main decision behind the delayed release date.

     Poster art for "Shutter Island."

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Details

Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Mystery
Release Date: February 19, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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